Marlbank – Denise Donatelli, Find a Heart, Savant (****)
Written By Stephen Graham
From the off to the roar of tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard on Donald Fagen’s song ‘Big Noise, New York’ this latest album from singer Denise Donatelli marries instrumental and vocal-jazz well. Thanks to legendary manager and talent spotter Mary Ann Topper, who sculpted the early careers of Joshua Redman and Diana Krall among others, for giving me a copy the other night at a gig.
Find a Heart has impact but does not always take the obvious most easily digested route and instead embraces sophistication without being clever, clever or mannered.
The singer and instrumentalists don’t compete like they do on some albums, it’s joint musical enterprise, and neither does the band simply back the singer which is also often the case and can occasionally be limiting on other records.
The vocals/instrumental integration is one of the reasons why the album succeeds and deserves high praise for the arranging and artistic humility (egos checked at the door), the listening experience involving many twists and turns in both the narrative journey of the lyrics and the lightly worn complexity of key changes and metrical command by both singer and instrumentalists.
Donatelli isn’t a belter but has stamina and that’s heard best on ‘Troubled Child.’
I can’t think of anyone she sounds like. Material includes Russell Ferrante’s ‘Love and Paris Rain’ Geoff Keezer tune ‘Spaced out (En Babia),’ and classic standard ‘Midnight Sun’ by Lionel Hampton, the smooth-ish backing vocals gently fed in nothing to worry about in terms of mission drift and Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Daydream’ among the numbers. Keezer (eg ex-Christian McBride electric band heard on Vertical Vision) did the arrangements and plays piano here as well as producing. Among a large-ish list of players Marvin Smitty Smith is on drums, the bassist is Carlitos Del Puerto, and star trumpeter Chris Botti pops up unobtrusively, with backing vocalists and strings as well.
Recorded in a Glendale, California studio during May 2014 this is unglossy quite ‘real’ jazz singing personalised by a slightly bittersweet but knowing edge to the songs, Donatelli’s low tones especially convincing and very grown-up.
The title track is a David Crosby song that also appeared on 2014 album Croz.
Donatelli is a classic jazz singer by sensibility and could probably sing the phone book. Find A Heart hooks from the first listen and rewards frequent replaying especially on the more complex songs.